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Why Does My Cat Lick Me? This Common Behavior Explained

By Bridget Reed


If you’re lucky enough to be a cat parent, you probably know what it’s like to have your furry friend give you a coarse, sandpapery lick. Although cats tend not to lick as much as dogs, it’s not uncommon for them to give their parents the occasional lick on the hand or the face. 

Given the unusual texture of your cat’s tongue, you might wonder why they’re licking you and how you can stop the behavior. This article will take a close look at why your cat may be licking you, why it can sometimes hurt a little bit, and how to stop your cat from licking you.

Why Does My Cat Lick Me?

Just like there’s not one clear reason why cats meow, there are several possible reasons your feline friend may be licking you. This section will dive into the four most common reasons cats lick their owners. 


Mother cats often groom their kittens by licking them so that their kittens learn how to take care of themselves. That said, licking is a natural grooming behavior for most cats, and your cat may be licking you simply to help “groom” you. 

When cats lick each other, the licks leave a scent that identifies them as part of a group as an act of social bonding. In “grooming” you, your cat may also be licking you to signify that you are part of their group. 

Your cat also marks you as their territory when they rub their cheeks against you, scratch, and spray. These actions signal to other cats and animals that you’re part of their pack!

Affection and Attention

Another reason your cat may be licking you is for attention and affection. As previously mentioned, mother cats lick their kittens to groom them. However, licking is also a cat behavior used to show their young affection. Your cat may be licking you as a sign of love. 

Along with love, your cat may also be trying to communicate that they need food, to go outside, or a cuddle when they lick you. Since your cat (unfortunately) can’t tell you what’s on their mind, they need to get your attention with their body language by licking, purring, meowing, or pawing at you.


It is also possible that your furry friend is licking you to self-soothe when they are experiencing stress. Usually, cats tend to self-groom when stressed, but some of that anxious grooming energy can be directed toward you.

Although this is not normally concerning behavior, monitor your cat if you notice an increase in the amount of time they spend grooming themselves and you. If you move to a new home or have new visitors in your space, your feline may experience anxiety. 

When cats become extremely anxious, they can groom themselves bald in certain spots. If this happens to your cat, contact your vet immediately. 


It might sound silly, but your cat may be licking you because they like your taste. Various products such as perfume, shampoo, and lotion have distinct flavors cats can be drawn to. 

Additionally, if you’ve recently eaten something tasty, your cat may be licking the last flavor off your hands. Your feline may also simply like the taste of the sugar and salt that naturally exists in your sweat.

Is It Okay If My Cat Licks Me?

Generally speaking, it is okay if your cat licks you as long as you are okay with it. The only reason licking may be unsafe for your cat is if you have any medical ointments or cosmetic lotions on your skin that could be harmful to them. 

If you have any open wounds, keeping your feline’s tongue away from them may be a good idea because cats carry bacteria on their tongues. You might also want to avoid the kitten kisses if you have sensitive skin or an allergy to cats because the coarse texture of a cat’s tongue can sometimes irritate human skin. 

Why Does It Hurt When My Cat Licks Me?

You may feel a little pain when your cat licks you because their tongue is a well-designed tool. Most cats bathe simply by grooming themselves, so they need a coarse tongue that effectively cleans their fur. 

That said, cat tongues are covered in papillae. Papillae are rough, back-facing barbs on your furry friend’s tongue made from keratin, the same material as their claws. These spine-like structures allow saliva to reach their skin, remove dirt from their fur, and spread oils throughout their coat. 

All these functions that allow your cat’s tongue to do its job well give it a sandpaper-like texture. Given that the hair on your arm is nowhere near as thick as the fur on your cat’s back, it may slightly hurt when they run their tongue along your skin. Although a cat lick is not as painful as a cat bite, it still may be an unwelcome sign of affection.

How Can I Get My Cat To Stop Licking Me?

If you want to discourage your cat from licking you, either because of the pain or another reason, there are several ways to do so without sending a negative signal to your cat. 

The best way to stop your cat from “grooming” you is to distract them once they begin licking you. Grab their favorite cat toys or initiate their favorite game to send the message that you still want to spend time with them even if you don’t want them licking you.

You can also distract your cat with a tasty treat or a few bits of their kibble. If your cat is food motivated, this may be an extremely effective way to teach them not to lick you. However, be careful not to go overboard on the kibble or the treats while trying to dissuade your feline from their bad behavior. 

If your cat’s licking is becoming excessive and distraction is not working, you can always stand up and move away to communicate that what they are doing is wrong. Make sure that if you take this approach, you only do it when their licking is overly disrupting or frustrating. 


Your cat is likely licking you to show affection or “groom” you. It may be a symptom of anxiety or stress in more severe cases. That said, it is usually considered harmless behavior. 

However, kisses from your furry friend can hurt because of the coarse barbs that line their tongue. If you love your feline but want to dissuade them from licking you, try distracting them with a cuddle, game, or their favorite treat. 

If the excessive licking persists, you can always send your cat a clear message by leaving the room or area as soon as they start to lick.


How biomechanics research led to a hairbrush inspired by a cat tongue | The University Akron News | Ohio

Quantitative study of fungiform papillae and taste buds on the cat's tongue | NIH

Cats use hollow papillae to wick saliva into fur | PNAS

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